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When the coronavirus pandemic came to the United States in early 2020, the food service industry was one of the hardest hit. Restaurants and cafes shuttered their doors, laying off staff and desperately trying to get take-out service up and running. 

Luckily for Paul Delios, owner of Kane’s Donuts, the developers he had tasked the previous year with creating an online ordering capability and accompanying app were ready with their deliverables. 

“It was very coincidental” that he already had these plans underway, notes Delios. “COVID hit in March, and I said, ‘Where are you guys with the online ordering?’ They said, ‘We were going to launch in April but it’s ready to go.’”

That’s how this venerable 66-year-old donut shop took immediate action to stay afloat while other food businesses were thrown into disarray. The three Kane’s stores—one in downtown Boston and two in Saugus— offered curbside pick-up for online orders to allow people to avoid coming inside. Delios also immediately signed up with Uber Eats and other food-delivery services under the philosophy that it’s “better to get product out the door than not,” regardless of the heavy fees.

“We really didn’t skip a beat” during the pandemic, recalls Delios. “We did lose some staff, unfortunately, and the Boston store suffered, but the suburban stores really thrived. People really want to have comfort food, and the donut falls in that category.”

Growing gluten-free

The pandemic wasn’t the first time that Kane’s needed a steady hand and some fresh ideas to survive. In the mid-1980s, Paul Delios’s parents Kay and Peter had just sold Mrs. Foster’s Donuts, the shop they started in 1955 in Lynn. Their idea was to retire. But that plan quickly fizzled when they saw that Kane’s, also founded in 1955, was for sale. 

Paul Delios serves up award-winning donuts at his Saugus location.

“My dad couldn’t sit still,” Delios remembers. “Their retirement lasted about a year. He saw that Kane’s needed a refresh, and he brought all his recipes from Mrs. Foster’s.”

Kay and Peter built the brand up into a popular local destination known for the quality of its treats. And when Paul took over in 2007, he took steps to ensure that it would stay relevant as people’s tastes and eating habits changed. He started working up gluten-free donuts recipes in 2010 after a family with a gluten-intolerant daughter stopped into the store one day. 

“My sister Maria said, 'All I can give her is some frosting and some M&Ms. You’re the chef in the family; you need to come up with something,’” Delios recalls. He started experimenting with his home fryolator and “ordering a lot of gluten-free products like xanthan gum and tapioca starch.”

By 2013, the store was offering gluten-free donuts, selling a dozen or two every day. Sales quickly grew as word spread of the offering, and today Kane’s sells 20 dozen a day. Those looking for gluten-free treats can choose among 15 flavors of gluten-free donuts and six flavors of gluten-free muffins. In 2020, Delios dedicated one of Kane’s kitchens to gluten-free production to ensure no cross-contamination and indicate to the gluten-sensitive community that the brand takes their health seriously. 

Taking to mail-order

With the pandemic’s existential threat to the business in the rear-view mirror, Delios is yet again trying something new to help Kane’s thrive. This year, Kane’s started a partnership with Goldbelly, an online food service that ships products around the country on behalf of carefully chosen brands.

“Now people who were living in New England who have traveled to, say, Florida, California, Arizona, or anywhere around the United States can go on Goldbelly and enjoy Kane’s donuts,” says Delios.

Shoppers are willing to pay for the privilege of eating their favorite donuts out of state; it costs a total of $69 to receive a dozen Kane’s donuts overnighted via Goldbelly. After a few weeks of ramping up slowly, mail-order sales are booming.

For Delios, all these efforts to ensure his customers can get the donuts they want—whether regular or gluten-free, whether at the curb or in the mail—are part of an effort to make people happy with food they love: “There’s nothing better as a chef than seeing your hard work being appreciated by your customers.”     

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